Provincial School Residences for blind and deaf kids reopen

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Students who study and live in at the Ontario Provincial Schools — for the deaf and blind — have reason to celebrate today.

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Their residences will be reopening at the end of January.

Since the mid-month lockdown in Ontario, students who are blind, deaf or have other exceptionalities and attend Provincial and Demonstration Schools have been told their residences were closed indefinitely.

All seven of these schools for the most vulnerable children are in Southern Ontario, and children come from all over the province to attend — hence the need for lodgings.

Children who live far away can board at school during the week and then go home to their families on the weekend.

With lodgings closed, school was essentially over for out-of-town students. They had to learn online, nearly impossible for students with vision or hearing differences.

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As these schools have small classes and, according to advocates, have had zero COVID outbreaks among staff or students throughout the pandemic, the residence closures were mystifying.

Teacher Tamara Witcher started a petition about the situation got more than 5000 signatures.

Herself a graduate of Ontario’s Provincial schools, Witcher teaches deaf high school students and began the petition to raise awareness of the uphill battle facing these schools.

The schools are expensive to run. Many staff, students and parents involved with the provincial schools believe that the province wants to close them for good.

The fear was that COVID would provide the excuse to do just that, but n ow there has been a reprieve. 

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In a statement issued Friday, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced the re-opening and said,  “ We committed to returning these children to class, knowing how critical in-person learning is to their academic success, development and their mental and physical health.” 

The statement notes that the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health has classified all Provincial and Demonstration schools and lodgings as high-risk settings.

This means enhanced health protocols: HEPA units, masks for all students in grades 1 to 12 and a daily COVID screening questionnaire.

Students who live in a Provincial School residence will need emergency contacts for immediate pick-up, as a precaution in case of COVID symptoms or a positive COVID test.

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